The women in my family have always sewed. I have quilts that were made by both of my grandmothers, and my maternal grandmother made clothes for all of my dolls when I was young. Until recently my mother made all her own clothes, as well as quilts and pretty much anything that could be made from a pattern. She taught me how to sew when I was a child and while I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it’s one of those skills I’m really grateful I have, especially in a time when most people don’t know how to do it.
In 1905, sewing was much more common than it is today, but even then, making the delicate items – ladies’ intimate apparel – was a specialized skill that not just anyone could master. In Lynn Nottage’s powerful play, Esther is a 35-year-old Black woman who does just that for ladies of varying classes in New York. She has lived in the same room of a boarding house for 18 years, meticulously saving her money so she can one day open a beauty parlor for women like herself, but she is lonely and wants more out of life.
Trinity Chenault’s portrayal of Esther is beautiful and heartbreaking. We know exactly where her heart is at all times due to her subtle facial expressions that exquisitely express every thought. The joy is exhilarating, the anger and fear are mesmerizing, and the heartbreak is devastating. Chenault’s performance covers all the bases, which is good since she is in every scene and carries the show. She simply does an impeccable job.
KJ Felder plays Esther’s prostitute friend Mayme with easy grace and a love of life. Felder is extremely likeable and has excellent stage presence and a natural acting style. As the wealthy yet unhappy Mrs. Van Buren, Sharon-Marie Fron brings out the pathos of her character. She manages to be spoiled and controlling while still being sweet and caring at the same time. We feel for both of these characters in Esther’s life and are rooting for them.
Esther eventually marries George, a man she has only known through his letters. Kris Thomas has to walk the tightrope of pretending, as the truth behind George's secrets unfold, and he succeeds mightily based on audience reactions as we learn of his true colors. Thomas believably plays both sides of the coin with ease.
As Mr. Marks, the Jewish man Esther is really in love with, Chase Di Iulio is charming and sweet. His character owns the fabric shop where Esther buys the materials to make her ladies’ garments, and Di Iulio is able to be overly helpful and friendly, yet with a hint of innocent sexuality. His accent is also very good. He and Chenault have great chemistry, and their scenes are fraught with sexual tension they know they can never act upon.
Rounding out the cast is Madison McKinzie as Mrs. Dickson, Esther’s landlady, who is definitely a mother figure to Esther. She can be a good friend, authoritative, and overprotective when necessary. She and Chenault have an easy camaraderie that works well in their scenes.
Director Jeanne Everton has done a wonderful job with Intimate Apparel, casting it well and getting solid performances from her actors. Karen Potter’s beautiful yet functional set works well for the show, and each area of the stage is given its own personality. I especially liked the use of the various levels. Potter also designed the costumes, which were appropriate for the period. Chad Rojas’s sound design, especially the musical choices, integrated well into the piece, and Ray Zafra’s lighting design moved well among the scenic areas. Madison Whitney did an excellent job with the props design. The projections by Ricky Olivarez and Mercedes Kuhn also added nicely to the scenes.
Theatre Wesleyan has put together a lovely production of a difficult play, and the intimate theatre space itself is also very nice with comfortable seating. Intimate Apparel runs through November 18, so you still have time to see it before it closes.
There’s NOTHING like live theatre!
Carol M. Rice
Audience Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2.5 hours including 15-minute intermission (although the program says 2 hours plus intermission)
Accessible Seating: Available
Hearing Devices: Not Available
Sensory-friendly Showing: Not Available
ASL Showing: Not Available
Noises and Visuals to Prepare For: N/A
Production Sound Level: Comfortable
Photo Credit: Jacob Rivera-Sanchez